Friday, August 14, 2009

Revelation in 1 Samuel 3

The story of Samuel's call is intriguing from the point of view of the doctrine of revelation. We are told that "the young man Samuel was ministering to the Lord" at the beginning of the story - taking part in temple services (what was the temple at Shiloh? Just the tabernacle, or something more? Would be interested if anyone has any knowledge here, although it's strictly beside the point of this post). We are also told that "Samuel did not yet know the Lord", despite his presence in the temple. In this regard, Samuel's autobiography mirrors that of Israel as a whole: "the word of the Lord was rare in those days; there was no frequent vision".

Into this situation comes the voice of God. The Lord personally calls Samuel by name, and effectively commissions him as a prophet by giving him a message to deliver to Eli. (The role of Eli in this process is somewhat ambivalent, in keeping with the presentation of his character throughout the book). There is no doubt in anyone's mind that this is God speaking: "the Lord was with him, and let none of his words fall to the ground. And all Israel... knew that Samuel was established as a prophet of the Lord".

What interests me most in this chapter is the end result: "the Lord appeared again at Shiloh, for the Lord revealed himself to Samuel at Shiloh by the word of the Lord". Note that no phsyical apparition is in view here - the call narrative rules that out. By speaking to Samuel, God appears to him. By giving him his word, God reveals himself. Now Samuel knows the Lord.

Of course, Samuel had a great deal of information about the Lord at the beginning of this chapter. He had access to reports of God's past revelation of himself to Israel, he had knowledge of God's prescribed worship (probably - although he is reported to be sleeping where the Ark is kept!), and he doubtless had instruction from God's priest. But until the Lord spoke to him personally, God was not revealed to him. Facts and reports did not constitute personal revelation.

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